Jeff Pendergraph called it “creepy déjà vu.”
You can’t help but wonder if it’s something more than that, or just one of those aberrations that tend to occur in the days leading up to the All-Star break, when players’ minds sometimes drift toward the tropical getaways that await.
A team that had won 15 in a row at home, hadn’t lost at all at Bankers Life Fieldhouse since Dec. 7, suddenly has lost two straight there for the first time during the regular season in almost exactly one calendar year (since Feb. 11 and 14 of 2012).
It wasn’t so much that they lost as they gave away the games to both Toronto and Brooklyn with mind-numbing mistakes.
George Hill carried the team through a second-half comeback, scoring six in a 12-2 run that put the Pacers up 76-72 with 1:38 left in regulation. What’s the best way to protect a lead in that situation?
Get stops without fouling on defense, and get to the line on offense. The Pacers did the inverse. They missed jump shots on their next three possessions, fouled the Nets on their next two and then Joe Johnson hit a tough shot to tie it with 13 seconds left.
NO TIME TO WASTE IN THE CLUTCH
Then came the moment that ultimately cost the game.
The Pacers had the chance for the last shot, and plenty of time, but the Nets had a foul to give. Hill – as has been his tendency all year – waited far too long to initiate the offense, dribbling the clock down to four seconds before making his move. He was, of course, immediately fouled.
That left the Pacers just 3.2 seconds to get their last look and, not surprisingly, they couldn’t get a good one as David West missed an off-balance, left-hander.
Though West has been a go-to guy in those situations all year long, he was playing with vision problems caused by a scratch to the left eye sustained in the first quarter, clearly was struggling (2 of 11 from the field) and had missed two wide-open jumpers on the previous two possessions, so that decision also was questionable.
Pendergraph had been the Pacers’ best player all night long, producing 14 points and 10 rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench, but was right back on the bench with the game on the line.
POOR EXECUTION WITH GAMES ON LINE
Once the game reached overtime, the Nets took control, thanks largely to a couple of tough shots by Tyshawn Taylor that seemed to need divine guidance to make it into the basket. On a night when Taylor and Marshon Brooks, two guys on the back end of the Brooklyn rotation, combine to nearly double the output of West and Paul George (21 to 12), those kinds of things will happen.
“I felt like it was a flashback of the Toronto game, same side of the court, same kind of player hitting the same kind of shot, so creepy déjà vu going on,” said Pendergraph. “But there’s some things we needed to execute in the fourth quarter we need to get better at to get games like that.”
Against the Raptors Friday, the Pacers led 90-86 with 10.7 seconds left in regulation, got a stop but yielded a putback by Amir Johnson that cut it to two. Still, all they had to do was get the ball inbounds, but West’s lead pass to Lance Stephenson was intercepted, Johnson missed his first shot but once again was given a clear path to the bucket for the game-tying offensive rebound.
That game was tied 98-all with 1:30 remaining in overtime but West and Hill committed turnovers in the next two possessions, Rudy Gay scored in much the same fashion as Joe Johnson would last night. With 1.7 seconds left the Pacers got a decent enough look but Paul George’s off-balance prayer wasn’t answered.
SLIM MARGIN FOR ERROR IN EAST
There was no excuse for either loss. Toronto is getting better but remains a seriously flawed team well out of the playoff hunt. If you are an elite team, it should not matter it was the fourth game in five nights.
The Nets were without their best player, Deron Williams, playing the second night of a back-to-back after getting blasted in San Antonio.
“Just get back to work,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “We looked at our mistakes at the end of the game against Toronto. We’ll look at the mistakes tonight, where we didn’t get stops when we needed to. It’s a long season, you just learn from it, grow and move on.”
Here’s the lesson they all need to grasp: the opportunity this season is great but the margin for error is razor thin. Had they taken care of these two exceptionally winnable games, the Pacers would be three games behind No. 1 Miami.
Because they did not, they are as close to eighth as they are to first. This is no time to panic, but neither is there time to waste.